MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Thanksgiving Day will mark 35 years since one of the most devastating fires in Minneapolis history.

A fire started in the Donaldson building in downtown Minneapolis In 1982, and then spread to Northwestern Bank.

By the time it was put out, it had destroyed an entire city block.

“It was incredible to see the volume of fire,” said Minneapolis Fire Chief John Freutel. “And that was something I’ll never forget. To see all those floors of that building and how quickly it was spreading through that building.”

Freutel was a rookie firefighter in Minneapolis that night. Little did he know, he was about to battle one of the largest fires in city history.

“You carried 150 to 200 pounds, not only of equipment, but also gear you had to carry. You had to carry that all up to the upper floors,” Freutel said.

Two boys playing with flares started the fire in a debris pile in Donaldson’s. The vacant department store was scheduled for demolition.

Flames spread quickly, eventually jumping into the upper floors of Northwestern Bank.

Freutel and others raced into the darkness, while debris rained down on them from above.

thanksgiving donaldsons store fire 35 Years Ago, Thanksgiving Fire Destroyed Entire Downtown Mpls. Block

(credit: CBS)

“Some of those window weights were falling down and hitting the street, almost like two-pound bombs so to speak,” Freutel said.

Flames were 80- to 100-feet high, and an orange glow could be seen from miles away. It took 150 firefighters 12 hours to get things under control.

The next day, downtown was coated in ice and smoke.

But in so many ways. the fire could have been worse. There was very little wind, and because of the holiday, no employees were in the buildings.

“There could have been some significant damage in other buildings in the city,” said State Fire Marshal Bruce West.

One of the first planes flown by Charles Lindbergh was on display at the bank, which was saved.

West said the fire led to changes in building codes and security.

“During the demolition time of that building, there wasn’t security around that building the entire time,” West said.

Speaking of codes, sprinkler systems were not required in high-rise buildings back then.

The two boys who started the fire were arrested and charged with arson.

As far as property loss goes, this was the second-largest fire in the United States in 1982.

It caused an estimated $90 million in property damage.


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